My mother is fantastic. She has always been incredibly supportive of my fondness for scaling rocks, even when she didn’t understand quite what I was doing. She bought me my first pair of shoes, my first chalk bag, and my first harness for my 19th birthday without knowing anything more than that I’d joined the UNH club climbing team. I occasionally tried to describe outdoor bouldering to her when she asked what I did on the weekends and why I wanted to sit in a bus for 24 hours to get this place called “Horse Pens 40” for spring break, but explaining, over the phone, the fun of carrying a mattress backpack into the woods to cushion your next six hours of falling off rocks three to 25 feet tall just doesn’t give a non-climber the full picture of what bouldering is.
A year and a half later, my mom decided to join me and the Rock and Ice crew for a day of clipping bolts at Rifle. It was the first time she’d seen me climb. I was psyched. She was even more excited.
Luckily for me, Rifle Mountain Park is the perfect place to bring a non-climber: Two miles of beautiful cliffs, picnic nooks, trails zigzagging over a bubbling brook, and virtually no approaches. My mom loved it. She spend the entire day walking around with us, taking horrible pictures of everyone—she managed to crop between one and all four of everyone’s limbs out of 95 percent of her shots—and asking about everything from why I taped my wrists to why we all had different climbing shoes. Ten hours later she remained smiling and still, even nine months later, brings up how much she loved Rifle any time someone talks about climbing and/or Colorado. Yes, my mom is awesome.
Now, it’s not always that easy to help your non-climbing parents, friends, and/or new significant other understand your love of attempting to get yourself to the top of a cliff or boulder in the most difficult way possible. As we all know well: Most people just think we’re crazy brave, crazy strong, and/or just crazy. So if your mom asks what you do every weekend, here are a few options for helping her understand our multifaceted sport:*
- Take her to Rifle or another easily accessible, aesthetically pleasing climbing location to let her see what the heck you do. If you really want to impress her, bring her to Yosemite and set her up in Tuolumne Meadows with a pair of binoculars, a bottle of sunscreen, a bottle of wine, and some artisan snacks, so she can be comfortable while watching you and your partner struggle.
- Take her to the gym. I’m sure you’d rather be climbing outside, but, on a rainy/cold/otherwise miserable day, you might consider giving your mom a taste of climbing in a controlled, approachless environment where she can see toproping, bouldering and lead all at the same time. Teach her to belay, and you’ll have a belay-slave for the day. Get her to love climbing, and she’ll finally understand your favorite sport—but watch out: In four months she might start sending your projects.
- Show her pictures and/or videos of you climbing. This can be convenient if you and your mom are often busy and can’t find a time to do numbers 1 or 2 above or if she’s a highly cautious or anxious individual who would immediately freak out if she had to see you hanging 60 feet above the ground in person. This way she’ll still see YOU climbing, but in the comfort of her living room with a play/pause button.
- Send her this blog post on “What is Rock Climbing” and let her read through the comprehensive descriptions accompanied by pictures. Minimal effort for you, potentially a lot of learning for her.
- Show her a Honnold video to shock her and then explain that you don’t actually do that kind of climbing. Then show her a video of Alex Megos sport climbing so she can see what you use “for safety” and so she’ll think that you transform into a ripped 22-year-old German powerhouse the moment you touch rock.
- Make something concise up to spare her the tedium involved in hearing a detailed explanation of each climbing genre. If she’s more interested in your being happy than in understanding exactly what you do, this can be a good option for everyone. Try giving her a very basic, two-minute or less description of toproping or bouldering, leaving out details like low/highballs. Then tell her how nice her new haircut looks and ask if she’d like to go for a walk with you and your dog.
*These options can also be used for explaining climbing to those who are not your mother, such as your father, office cubical mate, childhood best friend, the cute guy/girl from the bar last night, etc.